Why I'm Gluten Free (Plus Tips and Tricks for Eating G-Free)
Recently, my new teammie and twitterfriend Sonja decided to dabble in the world of gluten-free, by following Team First Endurance’s Gluten Free program. Being gfree myself for the last 18months, I won’t be able to test out the program, so I’m excited to hear what Sonja has to say about it (I’m not really willing to forego my bloat-free diet to confirm something I already know). It is interesting that so many professional athletes are going gluten free, albeit not year-round, but their claims for improved performance are not to be scoffed at.
Let me preface by saying: I don’t think everyone has to go gluten free. It’s probably not the end-all-be-all answer to every problem related to our health. I don’t know if I, personally, have Celiac disease, or if I have an allergy to gluten or wheat, or even if I have a sensitivity to it. I know that when I was in high school, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and given some little purple pills, which didn’t really seem to do a whole hell of a lot to influence my stomach issues. I know that I gave up lactose, which seemed to help my “stomach issues”, during my first few years of college (as well as a lot of other foods because I was going through a small bout of an eating disorder). And I know that I had an upper GI scope when I was 23 because I couldn’t explain the weird bloating and cramping that was going on with my gut. I thought that chalky taste might never go away. I was even a vegetarian for a few years because I thought that maybe the meat was mistreating my gut. Did it change anything? Nah. I just didn’t eat bacon for a two and a half years. Words can’t describe how disappointing that was.
What exactly was I going through? It really isn’t pleasant, so I will try to spare you all the details and just say I had a very uncomfortable accumulation of gas in my lower gut practically every evening. If I drank a glass of milk, I’d have to run to the toilet 15 minutes later (it was literally like clockwork). Even if I didn’t have milk, I’d still get crampy and bloated. I’d really only have diarrhea after having milk, so I self-diagnosed myself as lactose intolerant, but the Lactaid pills did absolutely nothing. After a night of drinking beer, I had the most wicked hangovers and zero retention of nutrients as they passed through my gut the next day (sorry, I know I said I’d spare you the details).
When Baberaham found out what I was experiencing, he was curious if it might be a gluten intolerance. Several of his family members have Celiac (sister, mother, grandmother, and aunts), but lucky for him the genes weren’t passed along on his DNA. I didn’t go in for a test (there really aren’t places that do Celiac – or even allergy- testing in my area), I just removed gluten from my diet. It’s easy, and basically free (yeah, gluten-free groceries are more expensive, but you gotta eat anyway, right?). It took a while to get it all out; I realized that my favorite cereal was contaminated with malt flavoring and my Quaker Oats were probably contaminated on the processing line. But, eventually, I felt as though I had found a safe diet and my symptoms slowly disappeared.
I don’t cheat (at least, not on purpose) on my gluten free diet. It works, and I like it that way. I really don’t care how good that burrito might taste… it’s not really worth the cramping and bloating. I don’t reward myself after a race with a big pizza, unless its a gluten free pizza from Pizzeria Uno’s (or Studio). It’s interesting that I can tell when I’ve had something that has gluten in it- after going out to eat at a restaurant or ordering lunch at the MUB. My symptoms return and I get uncomfortable. Sometimes I even double over in pain. To make things easier, and prevent the risk of grabbing something gluten-saturated, Baberaham has also adopted the gluten free diet, and sticks to it, too (and doesn’t cheat). He was having race-day issues with cramping too, so he’s hoping that being gluten free will help him in the long run. It is a more anti-inflammatory diet, right?
I’m really glad I went gluten free. Not only can I have dairy now (without the GI distress that I was plagued with before), I am comfortable gut-wise before going to bed. And, I’ve never been plagued with the infamous GI drama that comes with racing the long course triathlon. My guts are the last thing on my mind when I’m swimming, biking, and running, unless I’m hungry, of course. Oh yeah, and I can drink milk now. By the glassful. and I don’t have to worry about being near the loo. SCORE! We now go through a lot of milk.
How do we make it work? There are some really simply tricks I’ve learned in the last year and a half that have helped me make my diet a lot more easy. Read on:
1. Dine out less.
At least in the Keweenaw, gluten-free awareness is pretty minimal and restaurant servers don’t really understand that gluten is in flour. After asking if the french fries were breaded, I was once told “Oh, no- They are beer battered”… as if that is different. So, Baberaham have resorted to just dining out less.
This isn’t always easy, especially for people who travel a lot for work. So, do your homework! When I travel for races, I try to find gluten free restaurants online before heading out for food. Restaurant chains like PF Changs and Red Robin have gluten free menus. When in doubt, order a salad without croutons (and get o&v dressing) or get a burger without the bun. Watch for seasonings (get your food without the seasoning). These are sometimes laced with gluten! And, when in doubt, ASK! The restaurant business is a customer-oriented business. Without questions and demands, they won’t know what the customer wants. Asking also raises awareness and keeps the wait staff up-to-snuff with what is on the menu.
2. Make leftovers!
Leftovers are probably the best thing ever when it comes to having safe food for lunches. It also saves time from having to wait in line at the checkout or to pay your bill. Plus, isn’t lasagna better the second day?
3. Toast yer bread
Not gonna lie: Gluten free bread kind of tastes like cat food. Unless it’s toasted, of course. So make sure it gets toasted nice and brown, and then slather it with butter, peanut butter, or jam (or all of the above!). Besides, being gluten free typically means foodie options are more limited, hence calorie intake is more limited… and who ever said butter was bad for you?
4. Make yer own mixes
Gluten free sugar cookie mixes at EconoFoods are $6 a box. I bought this once, and was so annoyed that it only made a dozen cookies. Since when does a “batch” of cookie dough make twelve cookies? Ever since then, I refuse to buy a mix unless it comes from Namaste, Gluten Free Pantry or Bob’s Red Mill, and/or it is on sale. I’ve started to make my own flour mixes, for cookies, bread, and muffins. I’ve also started making my own ice cream! There was a scare recently with Breyer‘s, where they mislabeled a batch of Cookies and Cream ice cream (gluten-laden) as French Vanilla (typically thought of as ‘safe’), plus I get to pick-and-choose the ingredients. Nice!
5. Buy in bulk
I buy Larabars by the case. It makes them ~$1/apiece instead of $1.50… and I know I’ll eat them. I also buy cases of Honey Stinger chews for training and big bags of potatoes, onions, and rice.
6. Get creative!
I was overwhelmed with bread for a while. Gluten free versions are $6 a loaf and my bread-baking skills are miniscule. We’re talking crappy cat-food-crunchy bread. But I reaaally craved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So one day I decided to make a bit of extra rice during a stir-fry dinner and save some for lunch for the week. I wasn’t really feeling the teriyaki, so I threw in a spoonful of peanut butter and jam, microwaved it for a minute and a half, and voila! I had warm, ooey gooey peanut butter and jelly rice. It seriously tasted better than any of the pb&j’s I made with cat-food-bread. And it was cheap and easy.
7. Get really good at reading the labels
After 18months, I’ve gotten to know my EconoFoods really well and get-in-get-out of the grocery store as fast as lightning. But beore I was so lucky, I had to get really good at making sure I didn’t buy something I really wanted to eat only to find out I’d have to sit back and watch someone else (who wasn’t gluten free) enjoy it. Things I now am extra-careful about reading labels on:
- Cereal (General Mills does a good job of labeling stuff as G-free, and I stick with EnviroKids and Chex for my cereal needs)
- Soy sauce (the second ingredient is usually wheat gluten! Pay special attention to this at restaurants [#1 tip and trick]). La Choy makes a safe soy sauce.
- Oatmeal (Although oats are gluten free themselves, they are often processed to make them into ‘flakes’ in the same facilities as wheat is processed, so there is a great risk of cross-contamination. You can buy certified gluten free oats, which are mega-expensive [but guaranteed safe]. Others that may be safe [but not guaranteed to be safe] include McCann’s Irish Oats and NOW steelcut oats. Again, these are not labeled gluten free, but I personally haven’t had any sensitivity issues with them and know of other gluten-free folks that use these as well.)
- Salad dressings (most salad dressings are gluten free, but there is always the chance that the one you grab might be laced with gluten-ness. Read the ingredients. If in doubt, grab something different.)
- Soups (especially creamy soups… probably will have flour in them! Canned or at the restaurant, be sure to check the label or ask!)
8. Unsure if those ingredients are alright for a gluten-free diet? These ingredients are NOT safe for gluten-free folk:
- Malt (or anything “malted”)
- Brewer’s yeast
- Sprouted wheat or barley
- For more, check out this list on Celiac.com
9. These ingredients are safe in gluten free foods:
- Xantham gum
- Guar Gum
- Egg replacer
- Corn starch
- Potato starch
- Flours: Almond, Amaranth, Arrowroot, Bean, Buckwheat, Corn meal, Garbanzo, Millet, Montina, Quinoa, Potato, Rice, Sorghum, Soy, Tapioca, Teff
- The italicized flours have lower carbohydrates and higher protein than wheat flour!
10. Find a support crew
Being gluten free doesn’t mean you have to be thrown to the wolves. Find a group through your local health foods store, or even online! Having others to talk to about the gluten free diet can help make it easier. Also, getting the word out and shopping gluten free makes it easier for everyone. If your local grocer doesn’t carry gluten free foods, or they aren’t easy to find, don’t be afraid to ask them why they don’t carry it or where it can be found.
There are also a lot of gluten-free foodies out there. Check out their blogs here:
Any more gluten free tips and tricks? Feel free to leave a comment on this post!